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The wreck of HMS Roebuck

The project:   I was contacted by a researcher for the Australian Maritime Museum who was proposing to mount an expedition to head for Ascension Island in search of the wreck of the Roebuck. This vessel was returning to England in early 1701 after exploration in Australia and New Guinea when she sprang a leak off the shores of Ascension. She was moved in close to land and deliberately grounded. The skipper and crew were rescued shortly after by passing vessels, but the site of the wreck had never been found.  Captain William Dampier, in charge of the vessel, was court-martialled on arrival back in England on account of a mutiny which had previously taken place on the Roebuck. My client was keen to uncover the exact whereabouts of the wreck and details of the type of equipment which had been removed from the Roebuck at the time of the crisis.

The process:  I was able to locate the log books for the vessels which rescued the Roebuck; HMS Anglesey, HMS Hastings, HMS Lizard and East Indiaman Canterbury.   Although the material I had uncovered did not give the Australian team explicit instructions as to the whereabouts of the wreck, there were numerous little clues submerged in the text, which, when put together, provided vital leads. Using Dampierís account of the disaster, his anchorage a certain distance from the island and area of landing, the expedition was able to recreate the scene. Fortunately, the wind conditions were similar on the day of their arrival to those which Dampier had experienced, allowing them to get equally close into the shores of Ascension Island. The site of the wreck became certain as they located the grapnel described by one of the rescuing ships as being lost while recovering the anchor Dampier had used to warp himself in.

The result:  Having pinned down the site of the wreck, the Australian team found some exciting exhibits including a bronze Royal Navy bell inscribed with the broad arrow of all RN ships and a giant clam shell believed to have been collected by Dampier who was a renowned natural scientist. These relics are now under the conservation of the Mary Rose Archaeological Services at Portsmouth.

For more information on Dampier and the project to investigate the wreck visit http://www.eyeinthesky.com.au/treasures/home.html


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